• Wildfires are inevitable – increasing home losses, fatalities and costs are not

    Wildfire has been an integral part of California ecosystems for centuries. Now, however, nearly a third of homes in California are in wildland urban interface areas where houses intermingling with wildlands and fire is a natural phenomenon. Just as Californians must live with earthquake risk, they must live with wildfires. Focusing on traditional approaches like fighting fires and fuels management alone can’t solve the wildfire problem. Instead, California must become better prepared for inevitable fires and change how it develops future communities.

  • Urban water services vulnerable to attacks using a botnet of smart commercial irrigation systems

    Cybersecurity researchers warn of a potential distributed attack against urban water services which uses a botnet of smart irrigation systems. The researchers analyzed and found vulnerabilities in a number of commercial smart irrigation systems, which enable attackers to remotely turn watering systems on and off at will. Botnet attacks can also empty an urban water tower in an hour, and empty flood water reservoir overnight.

  • As Russians hack the U.S. grid, a look at what’s needed to protect it

    The U.S. electricity grid is hard to defend because of its enormous size and heavy dependency on digital communication and computerized control software. The number of potential targets is growing as “internet of things” devices, such as smart meters, solar arrays and household batteries, connect to smart grid systems. In late 2015 and again in 2016, Russian hackers shut down parts of Ukraine’s power grid. In March 2018, federal officials warned that Russians had penetrated the computers of multiple U.S. electric utilities and were able to gain access to critical control systems. Four months later, the Wall Street Journal reported that the hackers’ access had included privileges that were sufficient to cause power outages. It’s important for electric utilities, grid operators and vendors to remain vigilant and deploy multiple layers of defense.

  • Toward a more secure electrical grid

    Not long ago, getting a virus was about the worst thing computer users could expect in terms of system vulnerability. But in our current age of hyper-connectedness and the emerging Internet of Things, that’s no longer the case. With connectivity, a new principle has emerged, one of universal concern to those who work in the area of systems control. That law says, essentially, that the more complex and connected a system is, the more susceptible it is to disruptive cyber-attacks.

  • Bipartisan bill introduces “crushing” measures against “Kremlin aggression”

    An influential bipartisan group of U.S. senators has introduced a package of measures designed to “defend American security from Kremlin aggression,” including new financial sanctions and a “strong statement of support” for NATO. The bill introduced on 2 August represents at least the fourth piece of legislation circulating in Congress to punish Russia for its alleged interference in U.S. elections, its aggression in Ukraine and Syria, and other “malign” activities. “The current sanctions regime has failed to deter Russia from meddling in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) said in a statement introducing the bill. “Our goal is to change the status quo and impose crushing sanctions and other measures against [President Vladimir] Putin’s Russia until he ceases and desists meddling in the U.S. electoral process, halts cyberattacks on U.S. infrastructure, removes Russia from Ukraine, and ceases efforts to create chaos in Syria,” Graham said.

  • Detecting faults in the electrical grid

    Globally, most of the energy infrastructure that we rely on every day is over 35 years old. Like most things, age has not improved its functionality. There are people who work to prevent these sorts of catastrophes. Maintenance crews fly helicopters alongside high voltage power lines, getting up close to visually inspect infrastructure bit by bit. A much safer approach to maintenance is to take assets offline and then assess them for faults. Researchers have developed an innovative approach to maintenance which has the potential to do away with these inconvenient, time-consuming and dangerous practices—and also save us a whole lot of money.

  • Fecal bacteria contaminated surface water after Hurricane Harvey

    Hurricane Harvey was an unprecedented rain event that delivered five consistent days of flooding and storms to Texas last August. Now, researchers have substantiated that the storm caused high levels of fecal contamination to be introduced into waterways draining into the Gulf of Mexico and impairing surface water quality.

  • With hacking of U.S. utilities, Russia could move from cyberespionage toward cyberwar

    Even before the revelation on 23 July that Russian government hackers had penetrated the computer systems of U.S. electric utilities and could have caused blackouts, government agencies and electricity industry leaders were working to protect U.S. customers and society as a whole. These developments highlight an important distinction of conflict in cyberspace: between probing and attacking. The distinction between exploiting weaknesses to gather information – also known as “intelligence preparation of the battlefield” – and using those vulnerabilities to actually do damage is impossibly thin and depends on the intent of the people doing it. Intentions are notoriously difficult to figure out. In global cyberspace they may change depending on world events and international relations. The dangers – to the people of the United States and other countries both allied and opposed – underscore the importance of international agreement on what constitutes an act of war in cyberspace and the need for clear rules of engagement.

  • Senate committees to hold hearings on Russia, recommend additional punitive measures

    Two Senate committees – the Foreign Relations Committee and the Banking Committee – announced they will hold a series of hearings on Russia. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) tasked Senators Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, with holding hearings on the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), and asked them to recommend to the Senate additional measures that could respond to or deter what he called “Russian malign behavior.”

  • Russians hacked into America’s electric grid. Here’s why securing it is hard.

    Hackers taking down the U.S. electricity grid may sound like a plot ripped from a Bruce Willis action movie, but the Department of Homeland Security has recently disclosed new details about the extent to which Russia has infiltrated “critical infrastructure” like American power plants, water facilities and gas pipelines. This hacking is similar to the 2015 and 2016 attacks on Ukraine’s grid. While DHS has raised the number of the Russian utility-hacking incidents it detected from dozens to hundreds, it still maintains that this infiltration has not risen beyond scouting mode. Clearly, there’s no time to waste in shoring up the grid’s security. Yet getting that done is not easy.

  • New model predicts landslides caused by earthquakes

    Landslides are the third-largest contributor to earthquake deaths, after building collapse and tsunamis. From 2004 to 2010, earthquake-induced landslides caused an estimated 47,000 deaths. Researchers have developed a model which can help experts address such risks by estimating the likelihood of landslides that will be caused by earthquakes anywhere in the world.

  • Celestial hazards: Twenty years of planetary defense

    NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies was established in 1998 to fulfill a 1998 Congressional request to detect and catalogue at least 90 percent of all NEOs larger than one kilometer in size (roughly two-thirds of a mile) within 10 years. In 2005, Congress established a new, much more ambitious goal for the NEO Observations Program — to discover 90 percent of the NEOs down to the much smaller size of 450 feet (140 meters), and to do so by the year 2020. There are now over 18,000 known NEOs and the discovery rate averages about 40 per week.

  • Report: Russian hackers came close to causing U.S. blackouts last year

    DHS has warned utilities that Russian government hackers accessed the U.S. electric grid control systems in 2016 and 2017, and could have, at the time of their choosing, caused blackouts across the United States. “They got to the point where they could have thrown switches” and disrupted power flows, said Jonathan Homer, chief of industrial-control-system analysis for DHS. DHS is gathering evidence on the Russian government’s attempt to automate these attacks on the U.S. grid.

  • DOJ releases Cyber-Digital Task Force report

    The Department of Justice last Thursday released a report produced by the Attorney General’s Cyber-Digital Task Force. The report provides a comprehensive assessment of the cyber-enabled threats confronting the United States and details the ways in which the DOJ combats those threats. The first section of the report focuses on what DOJ describes as “the most pressing cyber-enabled threats confronting the United States: the threat posed by malign foreign influence operations.”

  • Buried internet infrastructure at risk as sea levels rise

    Thousands of miles of buried fiber optic cable in densely populated coastal regions of the United States may soon be inundated by rising seas, according to a new study. The study, presented at a meeting of internet network researchers, portrays critical communications infrastructure that could be submerged by rising seas in as soon as fifteen years. “Most of the damage that’s going to be done in the next 100 years will be done sooner than later,” says Ban authority on the “physical internet.” “That surprised us. The expectation was that we’d have 50 years to plan for it. We don’t have 50 years.”